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Testimony in D.C.

During the next few weeks, Barbara Prentice quietly ceased to exist. Another person invaded her body, a person she had never met. A person who kept looking for Adam, kept reaching for the phone to call him. But he was never there. There is no turning back; there is no recovery. There is no replay. What remains is an open, festering wound that you do your very best to contain before it devours you. Every waking moment breaths the loss of your child. The emptiness creates a void worse than midnight. It is free-falling; it is cemented. It has no boundaries; then it smothers. It sears worse than oil fire; but there is no pain from the fire.

Like being hit by a truck, surviving the death of a child is physically debilitating; recovery is slow, the prognosis is poor. Light is undistinguishable from night; time doesn't move. Everyone tells you to move it ahead for those left behind, but you set it back when they're not watching.

I don't know how anyone without faith makes it. My faith is all I had. I sank into it, and it alone held me up until I was strong enough to float.


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Conflicting Accounts

According to Dr. Richmond, the medical examiner, the official cause of Adam's death was loss of blood due to a stab wound of glass to the back.

What we have learned about Adam's death since September 27 has left me with more questions than I had for Dr. Tehrani initially. We do know that it was Homecoming, always a busy weekend in Amherst, and he had been out with friends. Around 12:30 AM, they reported that he left them, stating that he was tired and wanted to go back to the dorm. Due to safety issues, they didn't want him to walk home alone, but Adam was ready to leave, and they weren't. One friend went outside to see Adam off, then watched him walk toward the bus stop.

What Happened Between 12:30 and 1:30?

At 1:30 AM, campus police responded to an intrusion alarm that had sounded at the greenhouses located in the center of campus. Adam was found on the grass nearby, collapsed and bleeding profusely. The greenhouses were located several blocks beyond the walkway that led uphill to Adam's dorm, and diagonally across the street from the beginning of "fraternity row." They were not on the route Adam would have taken home from the party.

The first officer to respond reported that he had seen another person running through the middle greenhouse as he approached the building. As he rounded the comer, he found Adam "either passed out or hiding" from him. Several other officers arrived. One noted that Adam was very pale, and had a "smell of alcoholic beverage on his breath." Officers located a hole through one greenhouse roof, and a second hole through the side of another. All the greenhouses were attached by a long storage corridor with doors leading into the glassed rooms. They suspected that this was a "break and entry in progress," and concluded that Adam had been attempting to maliciously destroy property valued at over $250.

Why Was Adam Treated like a Criminal Instead of a Victim?

Adam is described as being found in conflicting states--one officer comments that 'initial observations of Adam were that he was semi-conscious, soaked with fresh blood, collapsed and moaning," but in the same breath the same officer continues to state that, "throughout contact with the subject, he was highly combative." All reports are subjective, implying that Adam's combativeness resulted from intoxication. He is even described as being "loaded."The facts are that he'd been stabbed in the back and impaled through the stomach by a knife-shaped shard of glass measuring 8 inches. However, because police suspected he'd been attempting to break into the greenhouses, they assumed he was incoherent and semi-conscious because he was drunk. As they believed "he'd either been hiding" or was "passed out," when they found him, they determined that his struggling was an attempt to flee, and three police officers restrained him in his gravely injured condition.

Sources have reported to us that he had initially even been handcuffed, and had struggled frantically with the police at the scene. Because no witnesses came forward at the time of the incident to volunteer any information, police determined that Adam was alone, and ordered the scene to be cleaned immediately without preserving it or taking forensic evidence. They issued a statement later that morning asking for information, but also stated that they believed him to have been alone.

Thereafter, all inquiries made were referred to the public affairs office, which always mentioned that "toxicology reports were not back yet," indicating without any evidence whatsoever that the incident was strictly a result of "substance abuse."

Why Was the Crime Scene Cleaned?

Within 1 1/2 hours after Adam had been found, all blood, glass, prints and tracks had been cleaned. Aside from the boarded windows, which were repaired the next day, there was no indication that a crime or mortal injury had occurred.

First Aid written protocol dictates that a victim of a medical emergency should never be moved unless in immediate danger. Police reports specifically state that Adam was found semi- conscious and soaked with fresh blood from a severe laceration, yet he was ordered to stretch his arms overhead so police could restrain him. Pressure was applied on the area impaled to stop the bleeding, possibly causing deeper penetration and pain. Written protocol for the triage rescue plan in Western Massachusetts for impalement and soft tissue bleeding calls for medevac to the nearest trauma center. Combativeness is a classic symptom of shock due to blood loss.

Yet, Adam was not taken to a trauma center, and the ambulance did not have enough man power to ensure his safety en route to the hospital. Consequently, Adam was able to rip out his IV and oxygen mask, immediately losing hydration.

Why didn't police, responders and doctors communicate?

At the hospital, Adam identified himself by full name, address, social security number, and birth date -- hardly a task for someone "intoxicated and loaded." His picture ID was in his back pocket, where men frequently keep their identification, but officers neglected to look either before or after cutting his clothes off. It appears that the doctor at the first hospital was never ad- vised about the impaled glass, as there is no mention of it until he sees it in an X-ray 45 minutes later, in spite of the fact that the officer who noted it in the police report accompanied Adam to the hospital.

At this time, it was arranged for Adam to be transferred to Bay State trauma center. Simultaneously, he went into cardiac arrest, and had to be brought back in for stabilization. The second ambulance then had to await discharge papers before transporting him. It appears that Adam never was stabilized, but they transported him anyway. En route, Adam suffered a cardiac arrest again. He was defibrillated and given CPR until arrival at Bay State, where his chest was cracked apart for open heart massage.

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Why Wasn't I Notified?

He was pronounced dead seven minutes later. The cause of death was "loss of blood." He had never been given a blood transfusion, nor typed for one. It had taken three hours for him to slowly bleed to death. He was conscious until the last half hour. During this time, I was never notified by University officials or the first hospital. It would have taken me less than three hours to drive to Springfield.

On 9/27/97, I suffered the worst tragedy a mother can suffer: the preventable death of a wonderful, gifted child. Adam was my son, but he could have been yours. We send our children off to college assuming that the University of our choice will supervise their transition from teenager to young adult. We need to arm ourselves with the fact that this is no longer truthful, and we have to prepare our children for battle before sending them away. Robbery, drugs, gang activities, alcohol and domestic assaults are anything but isolated occurrences at The University of Massachusetts, Amherst, though officials would prefer that the public believes they are.We must educate our children to be suspicious of their environment at all times. For if they have the misfortune to become a victim of crime on campus, they will watch in horror as the University overlooks their safety and reputation to protect their own. As landlord of my child's domain, this institution was responsible for his well being. They allowed his ambush, and fled when he needed their protection. Like so many casualties of war, he came back to me in a body bag.

Arm Your Children for War Before Sending Them Off to College

After being notified of Adam's death by Dr. Tehrani, I called the U. Mass. campus police to "get the details" as he had suggested. I identified myself, but the dispatcher did not recognize "Prentice," so I clarified that I was Adam's mother. He still didn't know who I was, so I clarified that Adam had just died from an injury suffered on campus. He then recognized the name, and asked what I wanted, of which I answered "the details." I was placed on bold for almost 10 minutes, then told that the detective in charge was still investigating and I'd have to call back. I demanded to speak with the shift commander, but he had no details either. I then called Matt, Adam's room mate and childhood friend, assuming that they had probably been together the night before. Matt said that the police were storming through the dormitory as we spoke asking questions about Adam and had just left his room. He hadn't seen Adam since 8 PM the night before, and didn't know why he hadn't come home.

I then realized that Matt had not been informed of Adam's death. In my own hysteria and denial, I had to tell him that his best childhood buddy was dead...

Other Suspicious Events

In the police log for 9/27, there was another man identified with a severely lacerated hand who was rushed to the same hospital 20 minutes after Adam. I was told by both the assistant district attorney and the chief of police that this student had punched out a dorm window. As there were no witnesses who saw him, my question to the department has always been: why did he punch out the window, who was with him when he did it, and where had he been between 12-2 AM?

I have never been given the courtesy of an answer. The most devastating reality for me is the lack of accountability the police department has demonstrated by failing to provide security for one of their best students. At the cost of Adam's reputation, they blamed his death on excessive drinking to protect their own reputations, rather than to investigate the more probable possibility that foul play had occurred. In assuming Adam was drunk, police allowed the destruction of forensic evidence and denied him the most basic of his civil rights: the right to an objective, unbiased investigation. Does the Constitution not state innocent until proven guilty?"

Haunted by Lack of Answers

How different the turn of events may have been if they had approached Adam as their own reports indicate they should have: "My first observation of the subject was that his shirt and denim pants were soaked with fresh blood. The individual was barely conscious, very pale and moaning." Why was Adam moved when no one knew how he'd been injured? Why was he requested to stretch his arms overhead and restrained? How much further did this impale him, and how much more agony did he suffer because of it? Why wasn't he treated with the compassion and sensitivity he so readily bestowed on all who crossed his paths, including thousands of children, some of police officers, during the years he taught swimming lessons and coached sports?

Why wasn't I notified immediately that my son had been gravely injured? I would have advocated for him and demanded that he be taken to a trauma center. Why was I told Adam hadn't been identified soon enough to notify me, when a Criminal Records check had been completed by 2:34 AM, which listed me as next of kin, and included my home address?

At 2:54 AM, before daybreak, and before witnesses had even been sought for questioning, WHO determined that Adam had been alone, attempting to break into the greenhouse by crashing through the roof backward, only to run through the next greenhouse, vault up onto a table, and kick himself out? All, during a walk home that was blocks out of the way from the route he would have taken?

How could such a determination be made when it was the police themselves who destroyed the evidence that may have proven otherwise? Who ordered this scene to be cleaned up without securing it or taking forensic evidence?

Why did police and rescue personnel judge Adam's attempts to communicate as "loaded" and "inappropriate" noises, or one syllable words sounding like, "it wasn't my fault," but they clearly remembered him to say, "I guess I drank to much?"

Why has the police department denied me access to the officers who responded at the scene and can tell me what Adam said? Why do they make me suffer more than the loss of my son alone, when it isn't necessary? Adam trusted them. I trusted them.

Upon the suggestion of Dr. Tehrani, when I called the police department for details surrounding Adam's death, why was I treated with such arrogance? I was placed on hold two times, given no information, then told I'd have to call back.

When I called Adam's room mate for details, police were in his dorm room and demanded to know why I was calling. When I asked Chief Luippold why I was treated in this manner, he said the hospital should have notified them that I had been informed so they could prepare a statement.

A statement? All I wanted was the truth and facts about what had happened to my son, not a "prepared statement." I was then told it "wasn't University protocol" to notify families -- it was the hospital's responsibility. Yet, the hospital told me to call the university for the details because it had happened at the university, and they didn't know!

When I asked for a written copy of the protocols, policies and procedures regarding safety on campus and the chain of command followed in reporting them, I was told no such document existed.

As a 4.0 honors computer systems Engineering major recently inducted into the golden key national honor society, Adam was also a loss for the University of Massachusetts. Yet, I never received a sympathy card or telephone call offering condolences from President Bulger. Is the President's new $1,000,000 plus per year office space in Boston so expensive that he couldn't afford the cost of a card or long distance call? Is this the way alumnus should expect to be treated by University officials when their children are victimized on campus property if that victimization might taint the reputation of the University?

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Why Has No One Been Held Accountable?

I entrusted my child to the University of Massachusetts for safekeeping. I requested that he live on campus property because he'd be safer there. The University was Adam's landlord, and he their tenant.Why didn't this department spend those first crucial hours investigating Adam's death? Why was it more important to research Adam's background for non-existent drinking habits? Why didn't police follow up immediately on the anonymous calls to the editor of the Gazette stating that Adam was not alone? Why did my lawyer have to request this through the DA's office, which still took them 7 weeks? By this time, the receiver of the calls had forgotten most of the information.

Police Tampered with Student Statements

Why did the police tell Adam's dorm friends that I had started wild rumors and speculations about Adam being chased and pushed, when I had been told this by acquaintances with relatives in Amherst who heard this immediately after his death, and whom had gone forward and prepared written statements to the police specifying so? Why were Adam's dorm friends discouraged from talking to me and told that I would feed them wild speculations, yet University officials told me it was they who refused to talk with me?

Why did police manipulate statements made by Adam's friends, telling me that they were all so intoxicated they didn't know where they'd been the night before, and that they were so hung over when questioned the next morning that they couldn't remember anything? After reading their reports personally and talking to them, they were horrified to learn what the police said about them. Adam lived in the honors dorm; these were all honors students; most, like Adam, on full scholarships.

What they in truth told police was that they'd all drank earlier in the dorm, as did Adam but, after returning from a walk with a friend, he was fine, and did not drink again that night. This accounts for why Adam's autopsy blood alcohol level (BAL) was so low: .12 as opposed to the other "alcohol-related" deaths of students in the news recently of .42, 65, . The driving limit used to be .15 in Massachusetts several years ago; it was only recently lowered to .08! Had this happened then, Adam would have by law been able to drive away!

Whom Did Police Really See That Night?

Why is Adam described in the police report as being 5'10",160 pounds, stocky and brown-skinned, when he was 5'3, 130 pounds, lean and white? Am I expected to believe in the credibility of this department? Were they describing the second person who later "metamorphosed" into Adam?

Why do police reports specifically state that Adam Prentice bought the alcohol for the party that night, when he was still studying at the library at the time the alcohol was purchased? The student who drove the buyer to the liquor store even told police that Adam had not bought the alcohol, yet they wrote it anyway?

What's Done is Done?

I want to know why Assistant District Attorney Michael Goggins, whose help I'd sought regarding Adam, said that he realized I must be frustrated regarding the destruction of forensic evidence, but "What's done is done?"I want to know who should be accountable for, "What's done is done?" Would "What's done is done," satisfy the DA and Chief of Police if Adam had been their son?? Would they permit their child's reputation to be slandered because he had the misfortune to be victimized on campus property--perhaps even stabbed deliberately, only to be victimized again when "help" arrived and accused him of malicious destruction? And again when rescue arrived and misjudged his injury, sent him to the wrong hospital, without enough manpower, and by the wrong source of transportation?

Other Concerns Beyond the Actual Scene

Why did Melinda Soffer, another attorney at the Northampton DA's office, immediately change her attitude at the mention of Adam's name during a phone conversation with Security on Campus staff when she called to compliment their Web site on student safety? She described herself as a lawyer working in a large college community in Massachusetts, and wondered if there was anything she could do to help. When it was suggested that she assist me in seeking answers regarding the suspicious death of Adam Prentice, her voice changed from friendly to ice cold, as if a dirty word had been spoken. She abruptly ended the conversation, and never called back to volunteer the services she'd just offered again.

Why Can't I Have My Son's Belongings?

Why can't Adam's clothes be returned to me? I want what was his last. I long for the day that I can grieve my son instead of defend him. These first months without him bring a new milestone to overcome with each passing day. The first Columbus Day holiday without shopping for winter clothes for him, two months since I saw him last, four months since I heard him say "Hi Mum" on the telephone.

Without Him, and for no Reason

My first birthday this Sunday without his thoughtful cards. Regardless of how busy Adam was, he always took the time to remember me. Mother's Day in 5/97 was the last card I'll ever receive from him. I am a gardener, and he card-shopped meticulously to find the perfect "garden" analogy. It ends with a hand-written note:"Mom, thank you for being yourself. You are the best mother in the world. You've proved this to me time after time. Being away from home I realize you have given me everything that I need to succeed. Thank you for everything that you've done for me over the years. I wish I was home to celebrate this day with you. But, before you know it, I'll be back..."

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Powerless to Fight the State of Massachusetts

If only this were true.What is it like to lose a beloved son so needlessly, only to have his impeccable character sacrificed relentlessly to protect the reputation of the very institution he'd saved so hard to attend? How many months has the unnecessary suffering I've had to endure robbed me of closure and recovery on behalf of the power this university holds to stifle my pursuit for the truth?

At an early age, Adam accepted Jesus Christ as his personal savior, as have I. This is my only comfort. When I see him next, it will be for eternity...

But it wasn't meant to be this way for him. His potential was limitless; his future before him. Adam excelled at everything he attempted because he approached life with 150% effort. In honor of his memory, I choose to give his investigation 150% effort as well. When I see him again, I want to look him in the eye and say, "Son, I gave it 150%, just like you taught me to." It truly is a rarity when a mother learns so much from her child.

Keep the Faith

Until then, I visit his graveside with the dawn of each morning. The quiet of the cemetery at this time is my refuge. I tidy the trinkets and cards left by his friends, then sit in my car for my prayers and devotions. Occasionally, I think of going to the ocean. We have both always loved the ocean, and spent 21 years together sitting and talking at the same spot he used to lifeguard from in recent years. I decide against it. It is just too painful to go backward now that I have learned to go forward. One never heals from the death of a child; instead, one learns to live again without the child.

I wonder what Adam would have done with his life had he been given the Adam at fifteen twirling his lifeguard whistleopportunity to live it?Would he have become a Computer Systems Engineer as he'd planned? Worked in competitive industry, started a business, become a Professor of Math and Engineering? He loved to teach, and was planning to attend Graduate School in California. Would he have quit it all for his music?

I will always remember him where he was happiest; sitting high upon his lifeguard chair, twirling his whistle and pondering the gentle waves of the Cape Cod ocean he loved so much under the warmth of the summer sun.

Respectfully submitted,

Barbara R. Prentice

 

Below, you can read a review of my testimony that ran in my home town newspaper and in Washington.

Campus crime:
A mother's case before a Senate committee is diluted by competing agendas

By JUDY MATHEWSON
TIMES WASHINGTON BUREAU


WASHINGTON - If she came to Capitol Hill expecting to meet powerful people who would take an interest in her son's death, Barbara Prentice was disappointed.

She arrived yesterday to tell a Senate panel of her concerns about how the University of Massachusetts at Amherst handled his death last September.
Campus police say Adam Prentice, a 21-year-old Barnstable High School graduate, was drunk and fell through the glass roof of a greenhouse. Prentice believes her son may have been the victim of foul play.

But Security on Campus, the advocacy group that recruited her to testify, isn't seeking answers to her questions. They hope her denunciation of campus police procedures will help them enact a law forcing academia to comply with the same crime-reporting standards as states and localities.

Prentice clearly expected more interest in Adam's death in its own right. She stayed up late several nights to prepare her 11 pages of testimony. Then she photocopied dozens of documents to submit to the committee. These included pictures of Adam as a young lifeguard; grade transcripts and dozens of letters from neighbors, friends and others who grieved at her son's death.

When it came time to speak her piece in a hearing room a block away from the Capitol, however, there were no questions about Adam or his death. There was only one senator on the dais to listen to her - which is common - and he could only allot her five minutes.

To be sure, the senator was a fairly powerful one - Arlen Specter, R-Pa., the chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Education and Related Agencies. But he was also somewhat distracted because there were seven other people there to testify as well and a vote on another matter expected any minute on the floor.

Prentice curtailed her testimony sharply, outlining only some of the reasons why she suspects her son died under suspicious circumstances and why she believes the campus police bungled the aftermath.

Prentice has no theory about who killed Adam or how, but says she's convinced her son was the victim of a violent campus crime. But she skipped her allegations that campus police also mishandled the situation medically. And she fought - successfully - against the sobs that caught at her throat as she described an 8-inch shard of glass on which he was impaled.

"Um, thank you Mrs. Prentice," Specter said when she was done. And then he asked the next witness to begin. In a year when he faces a tough re-election battle, Specter has adopted the issues of Security on Campus., the Pennsylvania-based group that arranged for Prentice's testimony.

Security on Campus was founded by Howard and Connie Clery. They were the driving force behind enactment of a federal campus security law after their daughter, Jeanne, was raped and murdered in 1986 by another student who broke into her dormitory room at Lehigh University.

That law requires campuses to disclose information about campus crimes so prospective students can make informed decisions about where they matriculate. But there have since been more highly public campus crimes in Pennsylvania, and Specter is eager to grant the Clerys' desire to see their law beefed up.

They want colleges and universities to report crime statistics according to Uniform Crime Reporting standards.

Robert Tappan, a spokesman for the group, said Adam Prentice seemed a good poster person for their cause, because had the campus police been required to report the incident along UCR standards, it would have probably prompted them to handle the whole situation more professionally.


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